Lemon Pepper Pasta

5 from 2 votes

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Ready in 15 minutes, you can can make this super simple lemon pepper pasta with just 9 ingredients. It’s inspired by the flavors in classic cacio e pepe with the addition of kale. Instead of simmering a sauce with butter or cream, these lighter lemon noodles rely on extra virgin olive oil, garlic and seasonings. Save this recipe for those busy weeknights when you want to cook a quick and easy dinner.

Lemon pepper pasta with kale on a plate.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

We all can use another fast pasta recipe, right? Kale brings so much nutrition to any kind of noodle. They are a perfect pair because you can cook them at the same time, side by side in a skillet and a pot and then combine them—all in 15 minutes.

This lemon pepper pasta recipe only has 9 ingredients. Most of them I would consider pantry ingredients that you might usually have in your kitchen. If not, they are probably mainstays on your weekly grocery list.

Garlic and lemon are classic ingredients really shine together. There is something so light and tasty about minced garlic and fresh lemon with pasta tossed in olive oil. You shouldn’t feel obligated to always make a full sauce.

As written, the recipe is vegetarian, but you can make it vegan. All you have to do is skip the pecorino cheese or use dairy-free Parmesan or nutritional yeast.

Ingredients & Substitutions

Ingredients including spaghetti, kale, lemon, garlic, olive oil and spices

This is what you need:

  • Pasta: My preference for this recipe is a long noodle like spaghetti, linguine, bucatini or fettuccine. Avoid angel hair because it is too thin to stand up to the kale leaves.
  • Olive oil: Go with high quality extra-virgin olive oil since this is what’s dressing the pasta with very few other ingredients.
  • Kale: You can use curly green kale or lacinato kale. Just pull the leaves off the stems and roughly chop them.
  • Garlic: Depending how garlicky you like it, you can mince 2 or 3 garlic cloves.
  • Lemon: No part of the lemon goes to waste in this recipe because you add both the zest and the juice.
  • Pecorino is a hard Italian sheep’s milk cheese with a salty and nutty flavor. You can swap it out and substitute with Parmesan cheese which has a milder taste.
  • Red pepper flakes: For some heat, I stir in red pepper flakes. Depending your preference on spice level, you can reduce or increase the amount.
  • Salt & pepper: The pasta is seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper. Don’t be shy about taking a few bites and adding more if you think it needs it.

How To Make Lemon Pepper Pasta

1. Cook the spaghetti in a big pot of salted boiling water. Check the package instructions to see the recommended cooking time. Usually, it is around 10 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the pasta. It should still have some bite.

2. Sauté the kale. Give the spaghetti a few minutes head start because you want to time it so the noodles are ready at the same time as the kale. Heat the olive oil and sauté the kale until the leaves start to soften.

Cook the pasta in a large pot. Then sauté the kale in a skillet.

3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Continue cooking for a minute until fragrant. Then squeeze in the lemon juice.

4. Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti from the pot into the skillet with the kale. Doing it this way allows some of the pasta water to cling to the noodles instead of losing all of that starchy water if you were to shake it off in a colander. (And it is one less thing to wash!) Toss the pasta in the oil and kale and stir in the cheese.

Stir the lemon zest & juice, garlic and spices into the sautéed kale. Then stir the spaghetti into the skillet.


A salad is always a good idea for a side dish with pasta. Even though this recipe already has greens because of the kale, it doesn’t hurt to add more. Try this arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette, Italian chopped salad, classic house salad or brussels sprout Caesar salad. You also can enjoy it with a piece of bread with a sturdy crust to soak up the olive oil on your plate.

Also, you can serve this pasta dish with a veggie side such as Parmesan roasted asparagus or roasted green beans with almonds.

Leftovers & Storage

You can store the pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Warm it in a skillet with a little olive oil on the stove. If you do microwave leftovers, give them splash of olive oil after you reheat them.

You can eat leftovers cold and throw in some baby arugula or spinach to treat it like a pasta salad. I know that may sound odd with long thin pasta shapes like spaghetti, but try it. 

Lemon pepper pasta on a plate with a fork.

Recipe Tips

Make sure to have all your ingredients prepped and ready. You should approach this recipe like you would for a stir-fry that cooks quickly.

Do your best timing simmering the pasta and sautéing the kale. I keep 2 burners busy for this recipe. Then I use tongs to pull the spaghetti out of the pot and move it to the skillet with the kale. Some of the starchy pasta cooking water clings to the noodles, which helps to dress the pasta with the lemon juice and olive oil. 

Don’t overcook the pasta. It should have that good al dente bite that you want from every pasta recipe.

Recipe FAQs

Can you use other pasta shapes beside spaghetti?

My preference is a long noodle since the pasta is tossed in olive oil. You can also use linguine, bucatini or fettuccine.

Can you add a protein?

Yes. Sautéed shrimp is great with the lemon and garlic.

How do you make this recipe gluten free?

Just use a gluten-free type of pasta such as chickpea pasta, lentil pasta or brown rice pasta.

How do you make this pasta recipe vegan?

Leave out the pecorino cheese or use dairy-free Parmesan or nutritional yeast.

More Easy Pasta Recipes

Chickpea Pasta with Spinach
Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce
Burst Tomato Pasta
Lemon Kale Orzo
15-Minute Vegan Avocado Pasta
Lemon Garlic Mushroom Spaghetti
Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
One Pan Orecchiette
Roasted Brussels Sprout Pasta

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Lemon Pepper Pasta

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Ready in 15 minutes, this super simple lemon pepper pasta is inspired by classic cacio e pepe with the addition of kale for greens.


  • 8 ounces spaghetti, linguine, bucatini or fettuccine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped kale leaves, curly kale or lacinato kale
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup shaved pecorino cheese plus more for serving


  • Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente according to package instructions.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the kale until the leaves start to soften, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Continue cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then add the lemon juice.
  • Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti from the pot to the skillet with the kale. Toss to coat in the olive oil. Stir in the pecorino cheese.
  • Divide onto serving plates or into bowls. Top with additional cheese before serving.


You can make the pasta first if you are worried about cooking the spaghetti and kale at the same time. Just save about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water before you drain it. Then add 1-2 tablespoons when you toss the spaghetti, lemon zest and olive oil with the kale. You likely won’t need that much water, but it’s good to have extra.
Leftovers can be saved in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Warm them in the microwave or in a skillet on the stove with a splash of olive oil.
If you want the recipe to be vegan, use a plant-based Parmesan or nutritional yeast instead of pecorino cheese.


Calories: 316kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Sodium: 594mg | Potassium: 186mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 157IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 26mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
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Hi, I'm Paige.

Welcome to Last Ingredient where you will find simple seasonal recipes with plenty of fruits and vegetables, all for the home cook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Made this tonight and it was wonderful! So fresh and flavorful, a snap to put together. Always an added bonus to up my dark green leafies. Thank you!

  2. 5 stars
    Loved this recipe! I had a craving for lemon pasta and paired it with salmon. I used spinach instead since I had it on hand. Will be a go to now!